Saturday, August 21, 2010

40. New Fancy Work

At the conclusion of my last post, way back at the beginning of the year, I teased that the final pattern in the 1884 knitted lace sample book would be "worth the wait." Little did I know just how long that wait would prove to be. As it turned out, life came between me and my knitting and I am just now getting back on track. Thanks to all who have hung in there.

Our grand finale pattern was published in the newspaper under the title "New Fancy Work" and was submitted by M.M. Niles of East Gloucester, Massachusetts. It appears first among the patterns in the sample book, but I have saved it for last because it is in a class by itself. In the accompanying notes the contributor suggests using it to make a tidy (for more on tidies, see 37. Vine Tidy), but my first thought upon seeing the instructions was "counterpane square." Worked from corner to opposite corner, the design features a raised leaf motif against a garter stitch ground in the lower half of the square and rows of eyelets alternating with reverse stockingnet stripes above.

The edges of the lower triangle of each square are rimmed with eyelets to use in sewing four squares together to form a block with the leaves at the center.

And when multiple blocks are sewn together, the full pattern is revealed: the eyelet rows come together as nested diamonds. A minimum of four blocks (16 squares) are needed to properly show off the arrangement. Since January I have managed to knit only a single block, so in the interest of expediting this post, the image below is actually a digitally created collage.

The rate the stitch count increases varies greatly-- the count rapidly rises in the first 15 rows, remains steady as the leaf motif tapers, and then increases again one stitch per row before reaching 38 at the center of the square. By contrast, the upper half of the square narrows one stitch per row throughout. The disparities make for a rather oddly shaped piece, but it is easily blocked into a uniform square. The 74 rows may seem excessive for what amounts to a little swatch, but since many rows are knit with just a handful of stitches, it is not as daunting as that number may suggest.

Only rarely do the sample book newspaper clippings include recommendations for materials, but Ms. Niles has several suggestions for her pattern. First and foremost: "In doing fancy work always use the best materials." She advises using very fine steel double pointed needles, No. 16 in the sizing system of her day, the equivalent of 1.25mm (US 0000) today. For thread she recommends either Morse & Kaley's four-ply No. 10 knitting cotton ("I can recommend this cotton highly. It is manufactured at Milford, N.H.") or Barbaric Drab Linen Thread No. 30. She continues

Sixteen of these pieces, or four squares ... makes a very pretty tidy, when bordered with some pretty edge. Line the tidy with some bright color.

For a coverlet, the fingering weight cotton and 2.25mm needles I used for my sample would be ideal. The individual squares blocked to 3½" along each side.

If used for a project today, some refinement of the pattern may be in order. Although paired decreases are used to taper the leaf, only K2tog is used to shape the upper half of the square where a left-leaning decrease might be preferred along one side. (And while we're at it, I think I would set the decreases in from the edge, slipping the edge stitch, for a smoother selvedge and easier sewing of the blocks together.) The tip of the leaf would also benefit from a change. As written, the leaf narrows by one stitch per side every other row until it is down to three. From there only one stitch is worked off on each of the next two right side rows. The resulting leaf tip lacks definition. The obvious substitution would be a single double decrease.

This pattern is so large it would be unintelligible without a powerful magnifying glass if the chart, verbal instructions, notes and photos were laid out on a single page as I have done in the past. So I have divided it up in two parts. You can download the chart here and everything else here.

Next week: But wait! There's more!


Caty said...

Nice to see your update today! The leaf motif is lovely! I really like the collage of the four squares.


Kathy said...

I am amazed! I have a coverlet that I bought at an unbelievable price of $2 at a yard sale that is this pattern! I am a knitter myself and recognized that it was a treasure and scooped it up before anyone else had a chance to grab it. I have seen similar patterns but this is the first time I have seen the REAL DEAL. Mine is made of a very soft but machine washable yarn in a cream color. Thanks so much for the pattern. I will save it and perhaps make it myself this winter.

Wibbo said...

My Grandma knitted a blanket in this pattern for me when I left home to go to college. She used random colours of yarn for each motif (4ply wool crepe) and the blanket's still going strong some 45+ years later.

Rosalía said...

Lovely motif, a little magic.
Rosalía from Spain

Robin said...

Um... wow.

YarnJourney said...

Beautiful! Your knitting is wonderful. Thanks for putting the pattern repeats together to show the design so well. Thanks for sharing the pattern too.

okanagan_spirit said...

I have been waiting for the promised sample 40 and am so glad I came back and checked again. I have seen similar patterns, but I think they are larger versions. Your digital collage of the joined squares is really nicely done. I have been collecting all the patterns and have used several, this is such a treasure and thank you for doing so much to provide this resource. Now you say there is more, I can't wait to see.

Alwen said...

It was certainly worth the wait!

Thank you very much for this.

Kathy said...

I did a sample square using your suggestions and it turned out beautifully!

Anonymous said...

where can I find the knitting pattern for the counterpane square

Gebreidesjaals said...

waauw!!! that is very handsome and beautiful

Conny's Cottage said...


that is very very lovely.
With that book that is soooo fatastik.

greatings send you Conny
Sorry for me bad engels

Elrine said...

I have been searching for this pattern for HOURS!!!! THANK YOU!
Elrine from Cape Town

ellie said...

Am absolutely thrilled to have "discovered" this page and looking forward to many happy hours of knitting with you! Thanks for the acceptance.

Anonymous said...

I have been looking for this pattern for years. Thank you so much.